Monday, 22 October 2012

Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups - Vol. 3

ABOVE - THE MAHOTELLA QUEENS IN 1980.
CLOCKWISE FROM TOP LEFT: CAROLINE KAPENTAR, THANDI NKOSI, EMILY ZWANE AND SHEBA MALGAS

There comes a time when a particular song becomes ingrained in your mind. Every tune in this mix has been, at one time or another, one of those songs for me. Electric Jive is proud to present another installment of Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups, our ode to the black South African songbirds of the 1960s and the 1970s. In this, the third volume, more rare gems from the archives are presented for you to enjoy – but I have decided to dispense with the usual format of a long mix in a single MP3 and instead provide you all with a compilation of individual tracks. The first two mixes in this series combined have been downloaded 1809 times (as of 22/10/12), which shows how well liked this particular form of female harmony sound is among the EJ followers – but I have taken into consideration the lack of flexibility of the single MP3. Many of you will have your own particular favourites to listen to, so I hope the new method of sharing the tracks individually is more helpful!

Without further ado, let us now shine some light on the people responsible for such beautiful music.

“Silihambile Ilizwe” features the 1972 incarnation of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje, here fronted by resident groaner Mthunzi Malinga. The resonating guitar and soft vocals of the girls endeared me to this song almost as soon as I first heard it. Mthunzi weaves in and out of the girls’ harmonies with guttural moans, while Nobesuthu Shawe solos in the number with expressive beauty. The song refers to the amazement and excitement of travelling across the country to perform for appreciative audiences who clap their hands vigorously. It is a true gem of a song, and one that I am glad to share with you. One of Izintombi Zesi Manje Manje’s early recordings, “Shela Wethu”, features some lovely vocal work in combination with the classic elasticated mbaqanga rhythm section.

“Ngibuzindlela” is perhaps the best example of the female vocal mbaqanga that sold very highly during the 1960s, should one ever need to select one single track to represent the genre during that era. The track has all the key elements, from the bouncy electric rhythm and bass to the watery lead guitar, the smashing brushed snare, and – of course – the close harmony of the Soweto Stars, the group merely being another name used by the Mahotella Queens. The five ladies on this song were the most famous and well known of all the Queens line-ups. Hilda Tloubatla fulfills the role of the strong-voiced woman lead singer here (belting out the vocals with utter proficiency has perhaps become one of Hilda’s most familiar trademarks in all her 50 years of recording!), answered by the rest of her team with a superb response. “Uhlathana” is another classic hit from the Mahotella Queens repertoire, recorded in 1970. A different grouping of the same pool of ladies sing in a rough-and-ready manner, raw mgqashiyo singing at its best, while the Makgona Tsohle Band provide some of the best instrumental accompaniment I have ever listened to. A great number not to be missed!

Another popular group back in the day was the Mthunzini Girls. Originally, the name was just yet another cover for the pseudonymous work of the Mavuthela girl group team, but by 1966, had evolved into a separate unit led by Julia Yende. This group, also featuring Virginia Teffo, Teddy Nkutha and Windy Sibeko, recorded some of the Girls’ best-selling material, often fronted by the regular Mahotella Queens groaner, Mahlathini – but the singers eventually dispersed. By 1972 it had settled down into a more stable unit. John Moriri was now the male lead of the group for the last four or so years (but he was eventually to depart, being replaced the year after by Robert ‘Umfana Wembazo’ Mkhize), with the Girls comprising Beatrice Ngcobo, Phyllis Zwane, Thandi Nkosi, Maseri Nombembe, Beauty Radebe, Barbara Shabalala, and others. One of the latter-day Mthunzini Girls hits was “Uyadelela”, a lovely song with the vocal and guitar patterns evocative of traditional Zulu music. Also included here is a 1968 song called “Umnumzane”, which although released with the Mthunzini name, is actually a Mahotella Queens song – unusually late in the decade for that practice to still be in use. It is, nonetheless, a nice tune!

You will find that many of the tracks in this mix benefit from exquisitely beautiful guitar work. The Satbel black music team of the 1970s featured a talented collection of lead guitarists such as Raphael Ngcamphalala, George Mangxola, Michael Nyembe whose distinctive handiwork helped to create an airy, atmospheric sound to the recordings of the Mellotone Sisters, Indoda Mahlathini and The Queens, Victor ‘Mahlabathini’ Zulu, and many others. The two numbers contained here by The Queens (the girl group that backed Mahlathini whenever he was away from Gallo–Mavuthela’s Mahotella Queens) are gems in their own right. Koekie Makhanya, Mildred Mangxola, Isabel Maseko, Agnes Mhlauli, Thoko Nontsontwa, Joyce Twala and Paulinah Zulu provide richly sumptuous vocals and march through the tunes in stunning synchronization, backed by Ndlondlo Bashise (who were also credited in equal measure as The Mahlathini Guitar Band).

“Siyobona umdlalo omusha – iDisco! iDisco! iDisco!” sing the Mthembu Queens. The new late 1970s music craze ebbed away at mbaqanga’s longstanding popularity in the townships, but that’s no problem for these ladies. They’re going to Soweto to see this new disco music in action! We’re doing the disco dance! The song in question, “Asambeni”, is completely un-disco to the point of confusion. This is a female mbaqanga classic, it could not be further from disco music, with guitars scratching all over the melody alongside some wonderful vocal talent. The Mthembu Queens, one of the few successful new girl groups of the 1970s, also give us the sweet serenade “Julieta”, the message of a man’s love for a woman who doesn’t appreciate him in the same way. No more remains to be said – just listen to their passionate and mesmerising voices.

That new disco music did indeed eventually force mbaqanga producers to alter the familiar sound somewhat. A heavier drum mix combined with the 1970s soul organ entered the studio, and the trademark bouncy rhythm guitar was retired, to be replaced by either a second lead guitar – or, in many studios, nothing at all. The lead guitar and bass remained the key elements of mbaqanga even into the 1980s. But while the Soul Brothers were leading the way with their popular mbaqanga-soul fusion, the Mahotella Queens were still quietly and confidently going about their business – bizarrely, to some degree of success. Alto vocalist Beatrice Ngcobo leads the ladies in fine voice in the 1982 song “Malume”, a young woman’s wish for her uncle to forgive her for all the unforgiveable things she did as a youngster. I’m so sorry my uncle, sings Beatrice. I’m so sorry… I’d like to return home to my family, continue the Queens. The ladies managed to hang onto some of their popularity well into the 1980s, and producer Marks Mankwane even saw fit to reunite five of the original Queens together with Mahlathini under a brand new grouping entitled Mahlathini Nezintombi Zomgqashiyo (or “MNZ”). The MNZ group and the Mahotella Queens, rather oddly enough, existed alongside each other and remained two separate units. One of the MNZ songs recorded without Mahlathini, “Ha Ke Tsebe” from 1984, has been included in this compilation. It is a typical love song with nice and relaxed singing.

I am indebted to Laurent Dalmasso for contributing three wonderful tracks from the early years of mbaqanga, taken from 78 rpms – “Andikathale” by the Joy Sisters, “Lamalobalemabane” by the Soweto Stars and “Moratuoa” by the Slick Sisters. Another thanks to our own Chris Albertyn for contributing two fantastic numbers – “Lepae Laka” by The Queens and “Jabulani Balaleli” by Amaqawe Omculo.

I hope you’ll enjoy Classic Mbaqanga Girl Groups – Vol. 3. Download the music, take in the sublime melodies, and do help us to spread the fact - the fact that old school South African female harmony was just as kickass as anything these hip-hop youngsters throw at us today.

Give it up one more time for the girls! YEBO!

CLASSIC MBAQANGA GIRL GROUPS – VOL. 3
1. SILIHAMBILE ILIZWE – UMTHUNZI NEZINTOMBI ZESIMANJEMANJE (1972)
2. AMAZING GRACE (SIMAKADE) – MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1972)
3. WE BABA ZALA – MAHLOKOHLOKO STARS (1966)
4. ANDIKATHALE – JOY SISTERS (1962)
5. NGIBUZINDLELA – SOWETO STARS (1968)
6. MALOME OREKILE SEPANE – S’MODERN GIRLS (1971)
7. UHLATHANA – MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1970)
8. SHELA WETHU – IZINTOMBI ZESI MANJE MANJE (1967)
9. UMNUMZANE – MTHUNZINI GIRLS (1968)
10. LAMALOBALEMABANE – SOWETO STARS (1965)
11. BEKEZELA – MELLOTONE SISTERS (1976)
12. ASAMBENI – MTHEMBU QUEENS (1977)
13. HA KE TSEBE – IZINTOMBI ZOMGQASHIYO (1984)
14. DITABA TSA HAO – THE MATTERS (1980)
15. MALUME – MAHOTELLA QUEENS (1982)
16. MENATE YA LEFATSHE – THE MATTERS (1980)
17. JULIETA – MTHEMBU QUEENS (1977)
18. IQHUDE – DYNAMIC SISTERS (1966)
19. SEKULU KHUNI – THE QUEENS (1976)
20. JABULANI BALALELI – AMAQAWE OMCULO (1972)
21. UYADELELA – MTHUNZINI GIRLS (1972)
22. MORATUOA – THE SLICK SISTERS (1962)
23. SEKUYASA – MAHLABATHINI (1975)
24. LEPAE LAKA – THE QUEENS (1975)
25. AMAZWE NGAMAZWE – MTHEMBU QUEENS (1977)
RS / MF

8 comments:

  1. Hi Nick, thanks again for taking the brakes off and letting the tunes roll. I'm reminded that back when Jumbo van Reenen and Trevor Herman were fashioning their first mbaqanga compilations for Earthworks that they did not have access to nearly as much rich material as you have managed to unearth. What I'm saying is that you are doing some serious earthworks right here and now. Thanks

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  2. Oh happy day! Thanks for sharing.

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  3. Wonderful mix! Thanks you so much, Nick.

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  4. Thank you all for your comments. Matt, for my efforts to be compared to those of Jumbo and Trevor is a huge honour. For me they really were the key figures in getting South African music out there to the world. I've said this before and I'll say it again - I do what I do out of sheer respect for the music and those who created it. To receive such nice comments from appreciative listeners truly is an honour, but the credit really must go to those who sang their hearts out just because they enjoyed it. They literally got pennies in return. Hopefully our work here at EJ helps to ensure their legacy lives on forever...

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  5. Thanks, this is truly an amazing collection! If you have the chance, it would be very helpful if the previous two mixes were available as individual tracks as well...

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  6. Thanks for taking the time to not only compile an amazing assortment of music but to break it down into individual tracks. The anal retentive side of me really appreciates it!

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  7. Hi Werner,

    I've double checked both the RS and MF download links, and they seem to be working fine on our side...

    Hope you're able to get to the music!

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